By Rodger Skidmore
The 3-Ring Circus was a big deal 50 years ago. There were so many acts that John Ringling’s circus had three different performances going on at the same time in order to fit everything in before you left the tent.
In New York’s Madison Square Garden, the tent was actually large tent-shaped drapes up near the ceiling, providing a more circus-y atmosphere. There might be an animal act (lions, tigers, or elephants) in one ring, the second containing trapeze artists leaping toward each other while in midair, and three or four jugglers in the third.
A big show, high drama, and hundreds of circus hands all working to entertain you.
The opposite of that was the small one-ring circus that was prevalent in Europe at that time. The woman who sold you your ticket later was the girl on the flying trapeze. The man selling popcorn or cotton candy during intermission was the juggler in the first half of the show and the dog trainer in the second.
A truly family affair, in that one family ran the show and many families attended. And with only one thing going on at a time, in a small tent where the first row actually was ringside, you could really focus on what was happening. While some snobs might have looked down upon circus performers, when you were packed into a small tent, you certainly looked up to the high-wire artists, as they were directly overhead, not two sections over.
Through Aug. 14 the Summer Circus Spectacular is back again at the Historic Asolo Theatre, right on the grounds of the Ringling Museum. Sarasota’s Circus Arts Conservatory not only conserves by teaching circus routines to young budding performers at the Sailor Circus Academy, but by bringing great acts each year to Sarasota. They rekindle old memories while generating new ones for you, your children, and your grandchildren.
High on the list of circuses that people love is Cirque Du Soleil, and one of the stars from two of their productions will be a daring highlight of the Summer Circus Spectacular. Darren Trull has performed on those tall swaying poles, on the gyroscopic wheel, and on that crazy thing — the Russian Swing (imagine you are on a playground swing and you jump off while it is at its highest point — and then you do your routine — wow!).
In August he will be doing his strap act. He is not strapped down, rather he is strapped up — up in the air, covered in straps — and then he lets go.
He and all the other performers go through their routines twice daily.
If this summer extravaganza is the first ring, the second ring of this three-ring circus is the Circus Museum. Here, in all its multiple glories, is the history of the Ringling, and other, circuses. The posters, banners, animal wagons, clown cars, train car, and costumes.
And if those are the first two rings, the third surely is the Tibbals Learning Center. It is called a learning center because you will be able to see what a full-scale circus actually was like — from dawn till dusk. When you enter the building, you will pass the train yards where the circus is unloading at daybreak. As the dim light brightens you will see the roustabouts setting up the tents and the performers having breakfast.
Climbing an open-sided stair permits you to see the circus grounds from another side and then from above — a true bird’s eye view of a 1920s Ringling circus in miniature (3/4-inch to 1 foot).
Also on the second floor is a series (again in miniature) of circus wagons, performers, and clowns on parade, in their gorgeous and outrageous costumes. Info at Ringling.org.
Snakes on a plane
That horror (horrible?) movie was not based on a novel of the same name, but simply in answer to a question some film writers asked: “What is the worst thing that could happen on a plane?” That answer spawned the movie. People are fascinated by snakes, possibly because they fear them, or perhaps because of that book about a snake and an apple (not the cookbook version).
Many large zoos have a snake exhibition. It is usually dimly lit (snakes like it that way) so your eyes have to adjust to see them. And, of course, when walking through the wrong part of the woods, that is exactly why you don’t see them. Down in the Everglades, even the very large ones are extremely hard to spot as they are low to the ground and the grass is a bit high. Even the raccoons, possums, frogs, and other small creatures that live there (or used to) don’t see them, except from the inside.
So, where can you view really large snakes that aren’t slithering around your feet during takeoff — and maybe even pet one?
Why right here in Sarasota, at Jungle Gardens. There is no movie called Skunks on a plane, but people tend to have an aversion to them also — unless they have been de-phewed, like the ones at Jungle Gardens. Without their aromatic defense mechanism, they are as tame as kittens, and just as cute.
The flamingos aren’t cute, but are more majestic and noble and, because of the way they strut around, a bit aloof looking. But don’t let looks deceive you, they are always looking for a handout.
At the garden there is a petting zoo with goats, etc. Around Florida one sees many signs that say “Don’t Feed the Alligators,” but here it is OK to do so as they aren’t allowed to eat any of the other animal attractions. There are also four different shows spaced throughout the day, from jungle birds to yes, the snakes. Info at sarasotajunglegardens.com.
Don’t just see and hear — do!
Performances by the Key Chorale don’t start until the end of September. Who will be performing in that August group? Perhaps you. Maybe you. Why not you?
Auditions are being held for experienced choral singers on Aug. 28 and Sept. 11. They have more than 100 singers, so you might just blend in. More info at Keychorale.org.
Making a splash
There are lots of pools in Sarasota and with the August heat that’s what many of us do every day.
Jackson Pollack also made quite a few splashes, but of a different kind — paint on canvas.
So, whether you prefer splashes, daubs, scrapes, or fine and broad strokes, there is a Sarasota modern art show for you to enjoy. The MARA Art Studio + Gallery is hosting an exhibit called WOMXN: Together for Art. There are strong paintings by Grace Howl (Hometown), Mara Torres González (The Sun Will Rise Again), Midge Johnson (Quiet in the Mountains), and six other local artists.
The exhibit opened in July and will continue on into August. More info at Marastudiogallery.com.